I was surprised to learn that Emily Dickinson was described as outgoing while she attended Amherst College, given her reclusive life later on. It has been suggested that perhaps she needed to disengage with the outside world in order to write about her innermost feelings. I imagine her to be overwhelmed with ideas and so consumed with wanting to express them that it superceded everything and perhaps even became a kind of addiction, a form of workaholicism before such a term had been invented. She is fearless in tackling almost any aspect of human feeling. I chose these two poems because both spoke of universal feelings about being different and being sad or depressed. I could not find any information stating when they were actually written. They were published posthumously in 1891 after Dickinson’s sister Lavinia discovered a hoard of poems she had left behind.
This poem perhaps is about how she perceived people viewed her, or her own observations about how people view those who think “outside the box”. The image of the chain in the last line conjures up thoughts of being brought to heel, under control, confined.
MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.
This poem seems to be about depression. Consider the first line: “Pain has an element of blank” (ll.1). What a spot on description of the apathy and void the depressed feel. It is described as having no beginning or end and “…no future but itself” (ll.5). How poignantly bleak!
PAIN has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.
It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain